“A lot of people ask us why we even need marriage rights when we have already got Section 377 of the IPC decriminalized,” says Ketan Bajaj, an IT professional who lives with his partner in Delhi, adding that as much as this question is pointless, it also points toward the fact that the society finds it a hard time in realizing the issues and rights of the LGBTQIA+ community when it comes to marriages. Ever since the debates around legalizing same-sex marriages were heard by the Supreme Court of India, people belonging to various communities have been advocating their respective views about the same. While the Supreme Court reserved its verdict on the same, and the judgment is expected only after the summer vacation break post-June 30, we aimed to figure out from the LGBTQIA+community and the heterosexuals who are in favour of homosexual marriages about their views on the apprehensions of the society for same-sex marriages and accepting the legalization of the same.
One such view like the above one, as heard by Bajaj, puzzles him every time. He says, “Even though we live as a couple, getting a legal standing to our relationship is necessary for us to be able to avail the benefits in various day-to-day activities that the normal couples do have," he says. However, it would be wrong to say that Bajaj is not already aware of why the society is much apprehensive in accepting the concept of same-sex marriages as, according to him, it is the lack of representation of the community in the society that acts as an utmost barrier. “Even the Bollywood movies pick for a comic representation of the queer community,” he laments but also adds that the legalization of marriage should be a must in order to pave the way for India as a 'developed’ nation.
Lack of representation, the major cause
Apart from the portrayal in the movies, it is the absence of on-ground representation that is a substantial obstruction in moving the perceptions of society. Pranit, who moved to Delhi from Mumbai, has also discerned a significant contrast in the representation of the community persons as he says “One sees very few people open about their sexuality in the North as compared to the South.” He notes that the dominance of politics and religion in the northern regions could be the seeding the same.
Pranit, who belongs to the cisgender community and is determined to advocate the rights for same-sex marriages — basis his conversations with people — mentions that the elder generation is much skeptical about accepting the community as they have hardly witnessed their presence around themselves. “We have seen many people coming out about their identities in our generation and hence, it has been pervasive for us to understand their existence, but the same is not the case with the elder generations,” he says.
The change, which is coming very slow
However, to believe that the young generation is totally inclusive of the community will also be a half-told truth. Not just in the north or the smaller towns and cities, the circumstances have almost been the same for the LGBTQIA+ community, even in cities like Mumbai. Kunal Chourasia, a young queer business owner, recounting his school days, says that there was not much understanding and consideration for the community back then. “When I talk to the same mates now, there is a lot of difference in opinion now. All of them, perhaps, have been exposed to the community and have become sensitive towards them,” Chourasia says.
As per him, one of the salient factors for this has been the longing to learn and surround oneself with knowledge. “Only when my mates allowed themselves to learn and educate, could their rationale change. Similarly, if we take initiatives to educate more such people, the apprehensions (for the community and the same-sex marriages) will reduce from the society,” he says adding that it is only then that the society will also understand that there is nothing disparate about the relationships between same-sex individuals.
Why the change cannot come as suddenly?
While people like Kunal are hopeful for people to accept same-sex marriages as a common practice, going by Alesha Nathaniya, a fashion stylist and model from Kannur, Kerala, thinks this will take time. She who had a hard time coming out mentions that people are terrified of “new things”. “We are human beings and we need time to understand and acknowledge things. We cannot accept everyone and everything to change all of a sudden,” she says.
According to Nathaniya, much before people come on the same page for same-sex marriages, there are a lot of things that will have to change. “For eg”, she says, “the depiction of transpersons and homosexuals are quite evident in the ancient temples here in South and people also have faith in these religious structures but hardly do they widen their perspective to understand it from the depth.” Moreover, Nathaniya also says that the representation in the daily soaps that cater to large audiences also needs to increase. “Before any major changes, it is the minor changes that matter and the highest of authorities should focus on those to first, aware people, and then only can we expect the changes for such complex topics like same-sex marriages.
The gloomy lives under live-in relationships
Till the time, relationships between same-sex couples are legalised, there is no doubt many of them are living in a live-in relationship in the anticipation that one day, they will get official status for their relationship. However, before that happens, the couples have to undergo various skirmishes that are capable of affecting their mental health. Ankur Bhatnagar, who has been living with his partner Deepak Sharma in Bengaluru for the last fourteen years, had to face a distressing incident recently when his partner was admitted to a hospital to be operated on to get rid of kidney stones. Even though he revealed his relationship status to the staff of the hospital, he was not allowed to sign the document for the procedure and had to call Sharma's relatives at the end. “It scares me to think that if something major ever happens to any of us, our existence in each other’s lives would not even be counted, even after living together for so many years,” Ankur says.
As much as it is traumatic for Bhatnagar, not that he is astounded by this conduct. Hailing from Haryana, he has observed that his hometown and the whole state have not changed in the 15 years ever since he moved to Bengaluru "If I wear clothes or shoes that are not meant to be worn by a ‘man’, the people back in my state not only stare but also make fun of me," he says. Adding to it, he says, “Unlike for other roles like 'romance' or 'action', we never got an idol for homosexuals even in the movies than just seeing a gay running behind all men.”
Despite knowing the set behaviourism of the society, it baffles Bhatnagar to come across statements like the one passed on by the Union government that claimed that the culture of India would be ruined by marriages other than that between heterosexuals. “Do they ever think how it will rather ruin the life of a girl or a boy if married without their choice?” he, who is open about his relationship with his partner on social media, says.
‘Verdict might consider a middle point'
While being unfurled about the relationship with the partner is still acceptable on social media, the real lives of these couples hold no space for them to be called each other’s partners. And talking about unmarried couples, when even heterosexual couples have to trade in with various biases and discrimination, as Ankur Bhatnagar said, it is not arduous to envisage the situation of homosexuals in live-in relationships. Dharmesh Shah, an IT professional from Ahmedabad, who is in a relationship with his partner still has to mention his relationship status as, 'single' everywhere to escape any hassle. “It hurts to not be able to accept the relationship status even after being serious and committed to the partner,” he says.
Having said that, however, Shah is very despondent for the verdict to be turned in the favour of same-sex marriages. “We lack the basic rights as partners, cannot buy any Term or Life insurance for our partners and neither can we purchase or easily rent a house together – all of which are very important for us,” he says adding, “So, even if the verdict may not be in our favour, which has the highest chances keeping in mind the opposition for it, they might consider the middle-point as to allow a few options so that the couples can avail a few benefits, if not getting their marriage legalized.”
Whether or not the verdict comes as a favour or chooses a “middle point”, as Dharmesh Shah said, one thing is sure and it is to contemplate the current time as a high time to safeguard the safety and integrity of same-sex couples. But in light of the strong opposition to the existence of same-sex couples, is this really too much to ask for? Well, only time and the upcoming verdict can tell.